The Alberta government is proposing legislation that would accelerate approvals of private clinics in order to get more surgeries done.

It's one of the changes proposed in the Health Statutes Amendment Act, which has been introduced in the house by Health Minister Tyler Shandro.

The bill would reduce what Shandro calls needless administrative duplication to get these clinics approved and complete more surgeries, such as those to remove cataracts, while still being paid for under the public health system.

Shandro said the approval process currently can take up to two years and the red tape is a holdover from a time when there wasn't one central health authority overseeing front-line care.

The legislation would also allow different ways for physicians to be paid rather than just the current fee-for-service model.

Some groups are critical of the proposals.

"Bill 30 represents yet another step in the systemic process of privatization that this government has been committed to since prior to the election," said Sandra Azocar, the executive director of Friends of Medicare.

"It signals that this government is unable or unwilling to learn the necessary lessons from a pandemic that has made abundantly clear the importance of a responsive public health-care system."

BIll 30 would increase the number of public members on health professional college committees to 50 per cent from 25 per cent.

 

The Alberta Medical Association said Monday its initial reaction to the proposed changes is mostly positive.

 

"We’ve been asking for patients to have more of a voice and to be more involved in health care for a long time, and so I welcome this change," said Dr. Christine Molnar of the AMA.

The bill follows February's review of Alberta Health Services that recommended significant cuts aimed at saving between $1.5 and $1.9 billion a year.

The report contained 57 recommendations and 72 savings opportunities including a review of management positions, moving more surgeries to private clinics and outsourcing services such as housekeeping and food.

Further recommendations include expanding homecare, reconfiguring some rural hospitals and aligning beds with the needs of each community to focus on getting patients the most appropriate care.

Shandro said in February the changes will be about freeing up administrative resources so the province can spend more directly on the care of Alberta citizens.

"Every dollar we save will be put right back into the health system to deliver on our promise to improve access and make the system work better for patients."

The province is slated to spend $20.6 billion on health this year, which accounts for approximately 40 per cent of the provincial operating budget.

In the spring of 2019, Alberta spent just over $2 million on a comprehensive review of AHS conducted by Ernst & Young. The review included input from 1,200 physicians, 27,000 front-line workers and 4,200 AHS leaders.

Many health-care workers have since expressed concern with Shandro’s plan as they expect privatization will result in significant layoffs.

The United Nurses of Alberta is sounding the alarm over the UCP government's demand of a four-year freeze on wages that was presented during negotiations earlier this year.

The union said the province is looking to cut back on overtime and premiums, and nix multiple positions. Those changes could potentially result in the elimination of almost 750 registered nurse and psychiatric nurse positions over the next three years.

NDP Leader Rachel Notley has expressed similar concerns, noting that the UCP is needing to make changes because of an ill-advised move outside of health.

"We did not need to give $4.7 billion away to profitable corporations so they could give it to shareholders who don’t live in the province," said Notley.

Premier Kenney announced last week that, effective July 1, Alberta would move forward with its election promise and cut the business tax rate from 10 per cent to eight per cent.

In a previous statement, Ministry of Health press secretary Steve Buick said that his government has "great respect for the work Alberta nurses do" and that "reducing costs does not mean reducing care."

Buick pointed to a high health delivery cost in Alberta with no improvement to wait times when compared to other Canadian provinces. "We campaigned on strengthening our publicly funded health system, starting with increasing access and reducing wait times. Every dollar we save will stay in the system to do that."

With files from Mark Villani and Jordan Kanygin